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Monica Doumit: The truth about the ACT’s “choice”

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The ACT government has made it’s choice to support the ending, rather than the saving, of life. Photo: Freepik.com
The ACT government has made it’s choice to support the ending, rather than the saving, of life. Photo: Freepik.com

Three years ago, good friends of mine who lived in Canberra announced they were expecting their second child. It was an exciting time for them and for everyone who knew them.

About 16 weeks into the pregnancy, I received a message from the dad, asking for urgent prayers. My friends had received some difficult news about the baby and were waiting for more information.

It turns out little bubba had a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare condition where the left side of the heart does not form well enough to pump blood. The left side of the heart is so useless that it is described in simple terms as the baby being born with half a heart.

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My friends were shocked and panicked as they tried to get their hands on as much information as they could. The doctor assumed they would terminate the pregnancy and proposed they make an appointment for an abortion.

They dismissed the suggestion of termination immediately and asked about other options. They were told that no hospital in the ACT was capable of performing heart surgery on the baby and that they would have to go interstate if they wanted to bring the baby to term.

They were again steered in the direction of abortion and falsely told that no child with the heart condition has lived past the age of 12.

My friends decided to give their baby the best chance at life and so packed up and relocated to Sydney, away from family and in the middle of COVID lockdowns. The handful of people they knew here, including me, were prevented from visiting them due to the restrictions on movement.

Their young son is now two-and-a-half years old and a great source of joy for everyone who knows him.

Given the experience of my friends, I was furious when I read the recommendations of the ACT’s parliamentary inquiry into abortion and so-called “reproductive choice.”

The recommendations included very little by way of offering “reproductive choice” and instead fixated on the singular choice of abortion.

Instead, they built on the ACT Government’s promise to provide free access to abortion, which was announced last year and became effective last month.

“The final recommendation was what made me really angry: Calvary (Catholic) Hospital was forced to provide abortions.”

Among the recommendations were: including “reproductive health care” as a core part of medical, nursing and midwifery training; pushing for at least 50 per cent of general practitioners to undertake training to prescribe the abortion pill and to allow nurses to prescribe the same; investing in the infrastructure to provide second- and third-trimester abortions.

The ACT inquiry also recommended subsidies for long-acting contraceptives and subsidised vasectomies, and “paid abortion leave” for government staffers—a cheaper option than parental leave.

The final recommendation was what made me really angry: Calvary (Catholic) Hospital was forced to provide abortions.

My friends had to move interstate to save the life of their young son because there was no hospital in the ACT that could provide the initial surgery he needed to get his heart working, nor the ongoing care he needs for his heart or other developmental problems.

However, it is not part of the ACT’s reproductive “choice” plan to require Calvary or even Canberra Hospital to offer life-saving surgery.

There is nothing in the plan to have anyone trained up on congenital heart defects or to seek out more paediatricians equipped for little people needing special care, nor is there anything about offering some additional parental leave to those whose children have to spend their first six months of life in hospital, as was the case with my friends.

There is a singular, tokenistic recommendation to fund services and information for patients who do not have access to Medicare but who want to bring their babies to term, but that’s it.

There’s nothing about offering support for those who do have access to Medicare and/or private health insurance but who might have other challenges in choosing life, or for those whose kids need a little extra help to thrive.

For all of the hubris surrounding the report and the lip-service given to reproductive “choice,” the reality is that the ACT Government couldn’t care less about the choices offered to parents.

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